Honor and shame in the book of Genesis––#3: The honor of woman

This is the third in a series about honor and shame in the book of Genesis. You’ll benefit from reading this in your browser. 

honor and shame in the book of genesis3


“One of the greatest causes of poverty in the world is based on a lie—the lie that men are superior to women.” [1] –Darrow Miller

Other than the serpent’s original deception (Gen 3:1–5) that led to the Fall of humanity, what lie has caused more oppression and trauma in the world?

What lie has caused more tears?

What lie has led to more pain than this? …

“Men are superior to women.”

This was not God’s intent when he created humanity. Observe Genesis 1:26–28:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

From this text we will examine three truths: 1) Humanity is made in God’s regal image. 2) The regal image of God is both male and female. 3) The Cultural Mandate (Gen 1:28) is a regal function fulfilled by man and woman together.

1) Humanity is made in God’s regal image

First, humanity was made in God’s image—the Latin phrase is imago Dei. This speaks of the inherent regal dignity—the supreme value and honor—of all humanity. Like animals, humans are created by God. But unlike animals, humans bear God’s “image” in ways that mere animals do not—possessing a combination of qualities such as as morality, glory, spirituality, personality, and creativity—in conjunction with an eternal soul.

Keep in mind, God is not merely an impersonal Creator—an abstract “force”. God is the Almighty King of Creation (Ps 93:1; Ps 95:3, 6; Ps 96:10–13; Ps 97:1).

Therefore, to be made in God’s image implies that all humanity is imbued with regal honor. According to the Bible, we all possess royal blood—regardless of our wealth or poverty, family name, social status, racial heritage, ethnic or national origin, level of education, or position in society. But due to the Fall and the effects of sin, we have lost and defiled our original regal identity.

This regal dimension of the image of God—imago Dei—is made even more clear when we consider the context of the Ancient Near East. John Walton writes:

The image of God as an Old Testament concept can be be understood in four categories. It pertains to the role and function that God has given humanity (found for example in “subdue” and “rule,” (Gen 1:28), to the identity that he has bequeathed on us (i.e., it is by definition, who we are as human beings), and to the way that we serve as his substitute. When Assyrian kings made images of themselves to be placed in conquered cities or at important borders, they were communicating that they were, in effect, continually present in that place. Finally, it is indicative of the relationship that God intends to have with us.[2] (bold emphasis mine)

The meaning of humans made in “the image of God”, in its social context, is powerful: Humans are vice-regents with God; we are God’s regal stewards and representatives. “As God’s stewards, we are tasked to do his work in the world; we are to be his assistants in the order-bringing process that has begun.”[3]

2) God’s regal image is male and female

Darrow Miller’s Figure 14 in Nurturing the Nations
Darrow Miller’s Figure 14 in Nurturing the Nations, page 130.

Second, humanity made in God’s image comprises both male and female. We find here the essential equality-in-being of male and female—man and woman. This means that humanity’s image of God is incomplete if it is only male or only female. The Godhead comprises both masculine and feminine qualities. Miller writes: “The masculine and feminine polarities are complementary in marriage and reflect something of the mystery of the eternal unity and diversity in the Trinity.”[4] This is borne out in the Scriptures:

  • Masculine attributes are conveyed in the common use “Father” and “Son” to describe God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. Moreover, God is “husband” to his people Israel in the Old Testament (Ez 16:32; Hosea 9:1), and Christ is the bridegroom of the church in the New Testament (Eph 5:31–32; Rev 19:7).
  • God’s feminine attributes are conveyed in the Bible’s use of feminine terminology describing God. Whereas the Bible says God is Father, we observe that the Bible says God is like a mother. Miller points out, “The Bible uses simile to state that God is like a mother, but never that God is a mother. God is like … a woman giving birth (Is 42: 14; 46:3) … a nursing mother (Is 49: 13– 15; 66:10–13) … a mother hen (Mat 23: 37; Luke 13:34) … a mother eagle (Ex 19: 4; Deut 32:10–12)”[5]

This takes us back to Genesis 1:27—the image of God is both male and female, masculine and feminine. The origin story of the Bible clearly reveals the essential equality of being—the same regal honor!—of man and woman, husband and wife.

3) The Cultural Mandate is a regal responsibility fulfilled by man and woman together

The message of Genesis 1:28 is often referred to as the Cultural Mandate. It is also known as the Creation Mandate or the Dominion Mandate.

Notice the first two phrases of verse 28: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply …’”. The blessing is given to them. And the command is given to them—male and female, man and woman. The implication is that God’s purpose and plan cannot be carried out by just men alone or by just women alone.

Again, Darrow Miller:

… it is worth reiterating that the Genesis 1: 26–28 creation mandate to procreate and exercise dominion … is given to the imago Dei: male and female. Note that a single human being, or a group of males, or a group of females cannot fulfill either part. It takes a team effort of male and female. The woman is not an object. She is not the property of man. She is equally the imago Dei. In God’s design, the responsibilities of pro-creation and dominion are shared. The mandate is for all.[6]

Equality of being for women across the entire biblical narrative

Much more can be said, of course, about the essential equality of being for women as revealed in the Bible. Scripture gives us the foundational belief in the God-created, regal honor of woman shared with the man. Here are some highlights:

  • God created woman as an egalitarian companion for man—“flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones” (Gen 2:18, 20–23)—someone equal in being and complimentarian in function or role.
  • Wisdom is portrayed as a queen—a woman of regal stature in Proverbs (Pr 3:13–18; cf. Pr 8:1; 9:1–4)
  • Proverbs 31:10–31 describes a godly wife fully engaged in family life (Pr 31:10–12, 15, 27–28), fitness (Pr 31:17), marketing and commerce (Pr 31:13–14, 24), helping the poor (Pr 31:20), teaching kindness and wisdom to others (Pr 31:26)—all rooted in healthy fear of God (Pr 31:30). This portrayal describes a woman who is neither hidden at home, nor cowering in weakness, nor stifled to be quiet. She is strong, dignified, confident (Pr 31:25–26).
  • The Song of Solomon speaks of the pleasures of the sexual relationship in the loving union between a husband and wife. It takes place in the social setting of Solomon’s Israel around 950 B.C. One of the primary meanings of this tantalizing book is stunning—in light of the traditional honor-shame standards and patriarchal values of the Ancient Near East. The stunning principle (Song 2:16) is this: The woman is equally entitled as the man to sexual pleasure and fulfillment.[7] 
  • In the Gospels, Jesus is famously egalitarian in his treatment of women. In all of his interactions with women, the woman is dignified and honored in the process. Perhaps the most famous is the account of his counter-cultural interactions with the Samaritan woman (John 4:4–42). Jesus treats women in such a radically honorific manner—while never minimizing their sin—that Miller says, “Jesus was the first feminist”.[8]
  • Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians that in Christ there is no distinction—that is, no inequality of being—between male and female. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
  • The fact that the narrative of Scripture begins and ends with “the nuptial”[9]—that is, ceremonial wedding language (Gen 2:23–24; Rev 19:7–9)—speaks of the incredibly high view of marriage, of woman, of male and female, husband and wife.

Men are not superior to women

The Bible teaches that in God’s design, men are not superior to women! The woman is straightforwardly equal—equal in being—to the man. The regal honor of man—and likewise, the regal honor of woman—is plain in numerous Scripture passages from Genesis to Revelation. How vital this is to counter the horrible lie: “Men are superior to women.”

Satan’s lies and humanity’s sin have corrupted God’s glorious design and intentions. Sin is universal. So the Bible’s high, honorific—indeed, regal—view of woman is in glaring contrast to the oppression and shame suffered by women and girls in varying degrees all around the world. This has mammoth implications for family life, for church life, for politics, for education, for believers everywhere.

What are some implications for mission? We will consider this in our next post.


FOOTNOTES

1. Darrow L. Miller: Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women in Building Healthy Cultures (p. 2). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

2. John H. Walton: The Lost World of Adam and Eve, (InterVarsity Press, 2015), p. 42.  

3. Ibid., p. 43.  

4. Miller., p. 130.

5. Ibid., p. 142.

6. Ibid., p. 174.

7. See Diane Bergant: “My Beloved is Mine and I am His” (Song 2:16): The Song of Songs and Honor and Shame” in Semeia 68: Honor and Shame in the World of the Bible (The Society of Biblical Literature, 1996), p. 23–35.

8. Miller., p. 3. Comparing the role of the man to that of the woman in family and society, Miller argues throughout his book for equality in being and hierarchy in roles. He bases this on trinitarian theology. The Bible speaks of the Godhead—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—having equality in being and hierarchy in roles. Just as there is loving leadership and submission in the Trinity, there ought also to be loving leadership and submission in the family.

9. Miller., p. 235.


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